The QA: Michelle Kondrich

By Peggy Roalf   Monday March 28, 2016

Q: Originally from the Great Plains, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in the East?

A: This always feels like a complicated question for me. Obviously, I know that I was raised in rural Nebraska, but since then I have moved around and felt at home in a lot of different places. I lived in LA for two years before moving to New York City in 2006. Even though I've since lived in Denver and am now in Providence, RI, I still feel drawn to New York in a lot of ways.

We moved to Providence in late 2015, so I am still getting comfortable and finding the things I love about it. It's a great city that also feels like a very small town, but a small town with great coffee shops, restaurants, used bookstores and a great independent toy store just down the street. 

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? 

A: I do keep a sketchbook despite the fact that it can sometimes be a source of self-imposed anxiety. I've never been a doodler and have always felt like I should be drawing more than I do. I have fantasies of being the kind of artist that draws compulsively no matter where they are or who they are with.

Q: What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: My illustration has rarely been entirely digital; in fact, it always starts on paper. I sketch ideas out in my sketchbook and often do some practice drawings of whatever the subject matter might be; a few weeks ago it was birds and this week has been toddlers. Sometimes I will clean up my sketches for clients on my tablet. I usually create color comps for myself that way, but the final illustration is done in ink and paint. From there I scan and clean up in Photoshop with tweaks here and there as needed. I've tried inking digitally, but I just don't get the same look and feel to the work. On paper I get a nice confident line, but it's also a line with imperfections that I love. Digitally I have a much harder time leaving the imperfections alone.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Aside from my actual drawing/painting materials, I think my desk is the most important item. It is a standing desk that I had custom-built for me by a carpenter in my hometown in Nebraska. It has a huge drawer that is good for storing paper and half of the top of the desk can be angled up to about 60 degrees. I can have my drawing taped down and angled perfectly while still keeping my computer screen next to me for reference.

Q: What do you like best about your workspace? Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: The best thing about my workspace is that it gets a lot of natural light. It needs a lot of improvement, though. I work from home and don't actually have a separate room for my workspace. I now have a very busy toddler who will find a way to get into almost any mode of storage I've previously employed. So, right now, I'm desperate for more permanent, organized storage and for a separate room of some sort. 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: I think that's something that each artist develops their own intuition about. Sometimes you look at a piece and think "something's missing," even if you don't know what. And those are the times when I think it's best to take some time away overnight, if you don't have a looming deadline. When you come back often you will be able to see what it was that was missing. It is especially satisfying when you are working on a piece, add one last touch, and you just know that it's finished. That is not how things usually work for me!

Q: What was your favorite book as a child? What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I was a pretty avid reader all through my childhood. My favorite days at school were the days I could bring home the Weekly Reader catalog. I would ask my parents how many books I would be allowed to order and I would already have five or six circled in the catalog. Does that exist for adults? I do know that I read a lot of the Goosebumps books.

The best book I've read recently was Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I've been a fan of his for a few years now. I love how his characters never question the often surreal or supernatural elements of their reality. His books remind me of the completely mind-blowing films of Kaneto Shindo or HayaoMiyazaki.


Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Ink and brush, no questions asked. Inking a drawing is my favorite part of my illustration process. And what a fun challenge it would be to only be able to use colored ink rather than paint or Photoshop.

Q: If you could time travel to any era, any place, where would you go?

A: Japan, at this very moment. My husband and I have both wanted to visit Tokyo as well as the Japanese countryside for a long time. I have always been drawn to, and a little afraid of, places where the language and culture are so foreign that I can't even attempt to read signs or menus. That feeling of being completely out of my element is something I find invigorating and it's something I don't get enough of in my daily life.

Q: What was the worst assignment you have ever taken? What did you take away from the experience?

A: The worst assignment I have ever taken was for a self-published children's book. I was just starting out and looking for any work I could find. Fortunately for me, the clients had a reasonable budget. The process was long and arduous with a lot of changes at the final art stage, which required me to go back to the author and ask for more money. I was very uncomfortable with that so early in my career. 

The biggest thing I learned from it is that illustrators should be wary of self-published assignments of any kind. They aren't inherently bad, but if you are being hired by the author of the project you have to keep in mind that the project is their baby. You are essentially becoming their partner and they will often expect you to have the same amount of passion and intensity about it as they have. That is a difficult thing to have when you are hired for just one aspect of the project. 

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: On a daily, casual basis, I get a lot of my inspiration from random interesting links I find via social media. I don't have any specific websites that I look to for inspiration but I try to be open to it in unexpected places. I love to read novels and non-fiction which can both be great for ideas or imagery. I love reading Nautilus, but I have to be careful not to spend too much time looking at the beautiful illustration that they publish because I want to pull inspiration from sources beyond just my peers. Flickr can be a great place to find surprising associations which can be fun when working on new concepts.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: In college I discovered Francis Bacon and I still have a soft spot for his work. I don't know if it affected my approach to art but it definitely tapped into the side of me that is attracted to darkness—both literal and figurative—in art. I've tried chasing that side of my work before, but my personality just doesn't let it happen so I guess I will have to settle for admiring it. 

I think the underground comics movement did have a big effect on my art. When I was introduced to R. Crumb, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes in college I fell in love immediately and started reading comics more and more. I see the influence of Crumb's cross-hatching in some of my earlier art and comics. Whether their work affected me or I was attracted to it because I identified with it, I don't know, but I would imagine their influence can be found in the brush and ink work that I do now.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Since my last supper probably shouldn't be something that my husband cooks for me a couple of times a month (sausage ragu and rigatoni, anyone?) I would have to say an unlimited plate of the perfectly seared sea scallop dish I had at Izakaya Den in Denver a few years ago. I would follow that with a heaping sugar cone at Sweet Action Ice Cream (also in Denver) of chocolate mint sorbet. Sorbet sounds lame, but, trust me, it's decadent.

Michelle Kondrich is a freelance illustrator specializing in ink and acrylic paintings for editorial assignments. She is also skilled at creating storyboards and whiteboard animation/video scribes. Her work gives a narrative feel to even the most conceptual ideas and she is passionate about telling her clients' stories in often surprising ways. In addition to illustration, Michelle enjoys cooking, embroidery and playing the banjo. Clients include Allstate, Fidelity Charitable, Pearson Education, The Humane Society of the United States, Blue Mountain Arts, GAIAM, Ardent Mills, McGarry Bowen, Branston Pickle, Prospect Magazine, Hastings College, PLANSPONSOR/Asset International, The Writer’s Chronicle, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Cengage, DaVinci Wine, Weber Grills, rabble + rouser, Workforce Management Magazine, AVAAZ, HORIZON Organics, Regent’s College London Alumni MagazineEarth Island Journal, Carbon8, Ammo Magazine, Cultivator Advertising & Design, Village VoiceHOW Magazine. She lives in Providence, RI with her husband and daughter.

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